Notre Dame Marriage Panel Follow-Up

Last Monday, I spoke on a panel on marriage at the University of Notre Dame. Here is an excerpt from the Irish Rover’s article on the event:

Ron Belgau is a graduate student in philosophy at Saint Louis University and founder of the website Spiritual Friendship. . . .

Belgau began the discussion by acknowledging that “debates over same-sex marriage are extremely polarizing.” As a gay Catholic who embraces the Church’s teachings on sexuality, Belgau emphasized the need for a positive pastoral example for men and women who have same-sex attractions. He noted the experience many people have of “homosexual sins [being] graded on a very different scale than heterosexual sins.” In light of this tendency for homosexuals to feel marginalized, Belgau noted the importance of discussing ways for these people to respond to God’s calling and to use their particular gifts within the Church, with a particular emphasis on spiritual friendship—understanding the Church’s teachings as offering a positive vocation for same-sex attracted people.

In contrast with the negative precept to not engage in “gay sex,” Belgau said that a deeper understanding of the Church’s teaching on chastity can provide a positive vision for same-sex attracted persons. To be chaste, Belgau explained, is “to be able to order our sexual desires in accordance with right reason, in accordance with the plan that God wrote into creation that is known through right reason but which is also revealed to us in the Church.”

Belgau concluded by discussing the importance of mercy as related through the St. Patrick’s Day Gospel reading. “If we respond to this call to bear witness in a way that recognizes our own sin, recognizes our own struggle, then we have a very different witness to give to our culture,” he said.

I’ll post video of the event when it becomes available. The whole article is worth reading.

Panel Discussion on Marriage at Notre Dame March 17

GrottoI will be joining Jennifer Roback Morse, founder and president of the Ruth Institute, and Sherif Girgis and Ryan T. Anderson, coauthors, with Robert P. George, of the book What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense for a panel discussion on the role of the Catholic Church in the cultural and political debate about marriage.

The discussion, “Marriage, the Church and the Common Good,” is sponsored by Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture and several student groups and will take place at 7 p.m. Monday (March 17) in DeBartolo Hall, Room 101, on the campus of the University of Notre Dame.

According to Michael Bradley, a Notre Dame senior student who organized the event, “no cultural, legal or philosophical issues are gripping the nation as firmly as are the questions that comprise the marriage debate. What is marriage? Why does it matter? How should public policy reflect sound answers to these questions? What role, if any, should the Catholic Church play in the development of this discussion? Having four of the most articulate Catholic voices in the marriage debate gathered here to discuss these and other questions should be an unparalleled occasion to explore them in harmony with the Catholic tradition.”

The discussion is free and open to the public.

The Freedom Baptism Brings

Describing the new community of the baptized, Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free”—and then you’d expect him to follow it up with “there is neither male nor female” (Galatians 3:28). But he doesn’t. He breaks the rhythm of the sentence and writes, “there is no longer male and female” (ouk eni arsen kai thelu). He trades in the “neither/nor” structure and substitutes instead the simple conjunction “and” (kai), which is puzzling.

Numerous readers have noticed that Paul is here alluding to the Greek version of Genesis 1:27, which reads: “God made man; according to the image of God, he made him; male and female he made them.” The implication, then, of Paul’s words would seem to be that there is something about the structure of creation itself that is now being altered or reconfigured by the work of Christ. As the great biblical scholar J. Louis Martyn has put it, there seems to be in view here a “new creation in which the building blocks of the old creation are said to be nonexistent.”

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Escaping the Prison of the Self

During college, I was part of a young men’s prayer group, and our leader, an Anglican priest, once gave us a copy of a letter C. S. Lewis sent in 1956 to Keith Masson, an American reader of his. The topic of the letter was masturbation. Here is an excerpt:

For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back: sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself…. And it is not only the faculty of love which is thus sterilized, forced back on itself, but also the faculty of imagination.

The true exercise of imagination, in my view, is (a) To help us to understand other people (b) To respond to, and, some of us, to produce, art. But it has also a bad use: to provide for us, in shadowy form, a substitute for virtues, successes, distinctions etc. which ought to be sought outside in the real world—e.g. picturing all I’d do if I were rich instead of earning and saving. Masturbation involves this abuse of imagination in erotic matters (which I think bad in itself) and thereby encourages a similar abuse of it in all spheres. After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of our selves, out of the little, dark prison we are all born in. Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be avoided which retard this process. The danger is that of coming to love the prison.

This is a wise and humane letter, and when my fellow students and I received it from our mentor many years ago, it generated several lines of fruitful conversation. But rereading it now, I’m struck afresh by its particular vantage point: It is written with the assumption, it seems, that its recipient will one day marry. The harem that the lustful young man keeps in his imagination “works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman.” I’m sure Lewis was right to take that approach, but it makes me wonder what he would have said to many of us who are celibate and not planning to be married. If we are going to avoid masturbation, we need a different incentive than the one Lewis offers, since few of us expect to “unite with a real woman” someday.

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Honesty about “Orientation Change”

Only the truth can set anyone free.

When I was twenty-one, I talked with a pastor about my sexuality for the first time. It was the pastor of my parents’ Southern Baptist Church, and in the course of our conversation, he told me about a man in the church who had been gay, but now was married and had children. He presented this as what I could hope for if I, too, pursued marriage.

However, I happened to know his wife’s side of the story. They had been married eleven years. During that entire time, he had been addicted to gay porn, and was regularly unfaithful to her on business trips. All this was going on during the height of the AIDS epidemic, before any effective treatments had been discovered. After years of forgiving repeated—and potentially deadly—infidelities, she was seeking a divorce. The pastor knew of this, because he insisted that as a Christian wife, it was her duty to keep forgiving her husband, and “not to deprive him” of his “conjugal rights”—despite the potentially deadly consequences.

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Youth and Same-Sex Attraction (Part 2)

In Part 1, I argued that efforts to present Catholic teaching on sexual ethics as if human sexuality were ordered toward “heterosexuality” are misleading. Human sexuality is ordered toward self-gift through celibacy or marriage.

I think that the Christian community can learn much about both marriage and celibacy as expressions of human sexuality from the experience of Christians living with homosexual attractions. First, let’s talk about celibacy.

Even in the Catholic Church, one of the few major denominations in which celibacy is a widespread practice, a spirituality of celibacy has, in recent years, been seriously lacking. Discussions of celibacy are often restricted to discussion of priestly celibacy, and spiritual and theological considerations are sometimes downplayed in favor of practical arguments about how celibacy puts people at liberty for mission.

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The Lonely Hausfrau

I know that Wes closed the comments on his last post because Frau Luther had taken offence—and justly so. I wanted to weigh in, though, because I’m the writer for Spiritual Friendship who has the experience of being the lonely hausfrau and I think that talking about what hospitality looks like, not only from the point of view of single people longing for inclusion in family life but also from the perspective of people with families who are willing to open their doors, is important.

I want to say right up front that I get completely what Katharina is talking about. It’s not that she’s overwhelmed because she made bad choices or any of the other things that some people in the com-box seemed to imagine. It’s that she’s a mother with multiple kids, and being a mother is frustrating a lot of the time. I have six. Lonely single people often don’t appreciate the loneliness of being stuck in a house day in, day out with a group of people whose conversation consists primarily in blaming one another for the large hole in the fabric of your sofa (and you just replaced that sofa. Like a month ago. Because your autistic kid ate large holes in the last one), and in babbling endlessly about who is in love with whom in Artemis Fowl. Yes, I love them. Yes, I’m happy that I had them. Yes, there are times when they are just so cute it breaks your heart (my two year old, for example, has recently composed his first song. It goes “I love you! I love you too! I LOOOOOOVE YOOOOOOU!!!” He sings it with incredible emotion and vocal expression given his age.) But there are also times when you are sitting in a dark corner digging your nails into your pillow and wanting to die—or else kill the children/husband. But generally suicide looks like the more rational option. On those occasions if I read about the sufferings of my celibate brethren I think “The biggest problem you have is that you have too much time to yourself? Seriously? Poor baby. Why don’t you go watch a play and drink a frappacino until you feel better. I’m gonna go change my fifty-seventh poopy diaper of the day.”

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“All the Lonely People”: On Hospitality, Again

The anonymous blogger, Frau Luther, is frustrated with the way we (or perhaps just I, since I seem to be the one who throws the word around the most here) at SF talk about hospitality:

Like, there’s a LOT of trendy talk in those circles about “hospitality” and communal living and whatnot. Those who are outside traditional families are supposed to find some way to link up with this. Those inside them are supposed to somehow reach out and pull them in. This is allegedly the cure for loneliness. And as someone who is firmly ensconced in the very kind of traditional family they look towards, I have to say their understanding of what it’s like in here must be based on a 19th century novel or something, because it sounds nothing like my reality. Maybe it’s class-based (I strongly suspect this), as their visions seem to be filled with dinner parties and wine glass clinking and rich conversation over great books and fine liquor, and calendars full of ~social obligations~. Or something like that.

The idea that life in a family is not lonely is laughable. Think it through. Do you remember Betty Friedan? I spend most of my life in a static-space between utterly alone and never alone. I rarely have a soul to talk to and I can’t go to the bathroom for 5 minutes without someone interrupting. I’m not complaining, here, and I am not claiming that my status in the family constitutes oppression. I mean that the lot of the human being is loneliness, to some degree, and mutual incomprehensibility, and toil and weariness and weeping in hac lacrimarum valle. And life in a family isn’t all hobbit-like coziness and ale. It’s more of the same, with people you’re related to.

More:

What I get from these writings, what puts me SO on edge about them, is that these folks who completely romanticize family life want to come warm themselves by the hearth and have a glass of wine and let a child amuse them for an hour or two, and call this “being part of our community” or somesuch. They will go home reflecting, thoughtfully, and write an essay about the deep meaning of it all, and with some tinge of envy and tsking about how plain boring hausfraus don’t appreciate our fortune. And then I will clear the plates, load the dishwasher, switch the clothes into the dryer, treat someone’s cough, sit half a precious hour in the room until she sleeps again, mend the blanket, thaw the chicken, mix the filling for the lunch entree, put on the TV and try to read 30 minutes before I fall asleep, alone.

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Persons, Not Body Parts

In my post yesterday, I said nothing about the substance of Phil Robertson’s comments to GQ Magazine. I said only that I did not think his comments about gays were bad enough to deserve suspension (I actually think his comments on race are more disturbing, though as far as I know A&E didn’t make an issue of these comments in announcing his suspension).

I deliberately did not address the substance of his comments, because I didn’t want to seem to be joining the people piling on and calling for his head. However, I then spent a lot of time yesterday moderating comments here and at First Things, and became convinced that I needed to say something more about the substance of Robertson’s remarks.

I have no objection to Robertson paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; I’ve quoted those verses on various occasions myself. However, there is a glaring problem in his comments that none of his defenders seem to see.

In pointing this out, I want to be clear that I am responding to his comments in the GQ interview. I do not watch his show, and I do not know him personally. However, since the interview is the source of controversy, and the interview is what many Christians are defending, I think it worthwhile pointing out that at least part of what he said in the interview should have attracted much more objection from Christians than it has. A blanket defense of Robertson’s words is, from a Christian perspective, indefensible.

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